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Category Archives: Faith

As Christians, How Do We Justify the Evil in This World?

Morbid catastrophe brings out lots of questions about being a Christian, and there’s been a lot of it lately: bombings around the world, deadly hurricanes, campus and public shootings, and the Las Vegas massacre. After incomprehensible tragedy comes into our lives like this, we’re left with a big question: If God can stop it, why doesn’t he?
 
That’s the question my fiancé posed to me as we mulled over the worldly sufferings that have been seemingly non-stop the past year. I didn’t have a good answer for her, and that bothered me.
 
As Christians, answering big questions like this is troubling. It seems to contradict our faith at times, make us question if what we believe is even real, if we really need to answer it or let it slide. As difficult as it is, we need to try.
 

Ignoring the big questions of our faith damages our ownership and gives reason for unbelievers to stay unbelievers.

 
I started researching this big question, and only found myself dizzy at the opinions and justifications being offered from multiple perspectives.
 
 
Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher and professor, makes a point in his Ethics Without Religion that “neither the religious man nor the secularist can explain, that is justify, such suffering and find some overall “scheme of life” in which it has some place, but only the religious man needs to do so.”
 
This statement sticks out to me as a Christian. People of faith have a need to find a reason for the suffering, but people who don’t believe see it as another instance where grit and courage is to be used.
 

Finding a reason why we’re suffering is exhausting, especially when God and our Christian answers don’t make sense.

 
I can’t explain why God will display a miracle in one moment and keep it from another,
and I can’t explain why one person survives a massacre and another dies.
 
God and fate is a mystery, and if any of us could understand these, God wouldn’t be God.
 
That’s a “churchy” answer I tell my students, but it holds truth.
 
What I can begin to explain in the Christian thought is how moral evil exists because of free will. And if we have the right to choose good or evil, evil things are going to happen to the good people. That’s why bombings, shootings, and terrible human decisions of terror happen.
 
Earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters taking lives seems harder to explain. That’s not a moral evil, it’s nature groaning. Perhaps it’s because we live in an inherently evil world, or we deserve the sting of death, or because God allowed it or willed it. Even so, this still doesn’t make tragedy easy to comprehend.
 

What I do understand is how evil influences people’s faith–and not always in a good way.

 
Sometimes, because God doesn’t “show up” in one moment, we don’t believe he’ll show up in another.
 
And when we can’t comprehend why God does or doesn’t do something for our good, I think we find a small inkling in ourselves that doesn’t trust him as much as before.
 
It’s moments of suffering and evil and terror that make or break a faith. Take the Las Vegas massacre for example–one agnostic was reported coming to faith because of the surviving the shooting. But I have no doubt there are Christians who died and their family members are asking how a God they believe in would allow such a catastrophe to occur–perhaps they even let go of their faith because of it.
 

It’s human to struggle with “why”.

 
It’s all over the Bible too. It’s a part of our human existence to not understand why and question the qualities of God. The Apostle Paul wrestled with why God allowed suffering in his own body, Jesus asked why God had forgotten him on the cross, Elijah complained of his daunting situation and asked to die–we will always wonder why or how evil is affecting our lives.
 
Everyone, Christians and non-Christians, will ask why evil has so much power and brings so much pain in this world.
 
Even though our faith can seem weak or confusing or cowardly in times of peril, it offers hope, it offers promise, it offers a future without terror.
 
Be the hope in someone’s life today. Be the light in a world of darkness. Be the reason someone chooses love over hate.

Why Are You A Christian?

Lost within depression, soaking in struggles, facing sexual temptation, choosing right or wrong, “why are you a Christian?” has been a question that meets me time and time again in these moments and many more. I used to ignore its prompt, answer it with an, “I dunno.” But the more I’ve lived and wrestled with my faith, this question has become more relevant, more necessary to answer every day.
 
Photo Credit: Benjamin Gosset (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Benjamin Gossett (Creative Commons)

I was cultivated in a Christian system. My parents, my school, my friends—everything and everyone were Christian. Because of this, I never deeply examined why I too identified myself as a Christian. I just was.
 
There were pricks and prods from youth group and sermons that made me think a bit, but it wasn’t until my Christian high school struggled with students who identified themselves as homosexual that I actually asked myself, “Why are you a Christian?”
 
What ensued in my school was hate and confusion. Administration didn’t know how to handle it, students didn’t know how to act—until that moment many of us didn’t know anyone who was gay and all we had been told about being gay was that it was a horrible sin.
 
Bullying and discrimination and manipulation took over. I made a lot of mistakes within those actions, and when I saw the hurt that was being caused, I remember crying into my pillow asking Jesus, “Why are we even Christians if we can’t love like you told us to love?”
 
Today we are surrounded by the bullying, discrimination, and manipulation of ISIS, international massacres, cop shootings, violent riots, school shootings, race, gender…
 
If you’re a Christian, are you not crying into your pillow asking a something similar?
 
I found a piece of my answer that night of why I’m a Christian. Even so, the road to continue finding answers has been long, confusing, and painful.
 

I think that’s the reason many of us don’t like to ask this big question—we aren’t sure of the answer and it seems too difficult to find.

 
If we don’t know the answer, then what the heck have we been doing with our life for how many-ever-years we’ve labeled ourselves “Christian”? Without asking ourselves this question, we are living a life we aren’t owning.
 
Perhaps that’s the flaw of the face of American Christianity today. No one knows why they believe what they do, they’re just a Christian because it’s what they’ve been told to be or have always been. And because there are no truths rooted in real answers, people operate an inactive faith of faulty choices.
 
The fundamental key to answering a question is to provide facts. In order to answer “Why are you a Christian,” you must first know who you are and then you must know the truth about what you believe, but both of these are facts that most Christians have trouble providing.
 

Why is that? Shouldn’t they be the most important answers to have?

 
I preach to churches that won’t change and won’t take action for Jesus because they don’t know these answers.
I talk to Millennials who have no problem choosing a sinful lifestyle over a holy one because they don’t have these answers.
We are a part of a world that obsesses over Christianity, yet seemingly no one has the answers to the most important question.
 
Why are you a Christian?

You Won’t Find Jesus In A Book

Recently, a friend admitted to me they were second guessing Jesus—that he didn’t seem real to him anymore. I could see the frustration in his eyes that something he had always known and grew up on was losing its value. His solution, he told me, was digging into books on theology and apologetics (he’d already read ten of them this month), trying to rediscover the validity of Jesus. His battle field of a heart lay messy on the table in a quaint coffee house when he ended his rant and asked for help. I told him to stop looking…
 

You won’t find Jesus in a book.

Photo Credit: Clemence Pacault (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Clemence Pacault (Creative Commons)

You see, my friend, just like me, grew up on factual Christianity. Being a Christian in this system meant memorizing scripture verses, remembering details to miraculous stories, and knowing the “B-I-B-L-E yes that’s the book for me” songs. If you could do it fluently, you were a “good” Christian.
 
Factual Christianity is based in books but lacks the applicational and experiential side of faith. What it breeds is a porcelain faith that can look good but is shattered when it stumbles upon temptations like sex, drugs, and alcohol or into mental battles like self-image, pride, and envy.
 
The immediate issue is that these situations create an experience that a factual faith has no answers to because there has been no connection with Jesus, only ties to a systematic routine.
 

If you haven’t experienced Jesus, there are a lot of world experiences that will win the attention of your heart.

 
A faith rooted in factual knowledge falls short of stellar like the recipe to a batch of cookies. You can stare at the directions for as long as you want, but you’ll never experience the goodness without working for it.
 
And that’s where many of our Millennial faiths falter, just like my friend unraveled at the coffee shop—it didn’t make sense anymore to believe in something that was only recipe and no experience.
 
Facts will never beat experience. If we allow ourselves to live only by word and never by deed, there is no doubt faith will get boring. Experiencing faith isn’t easy to figure out either though, and that’s why so many of us get frustrated and hindered and confused when it comes down to wanting to feel something.
 
There’s no magical formula of prayer, Bible, and church, there isn’t a certain amount of mission trips you need to go on or service hours you need to complete, experiencing Jesus is unique to every person.
 
This is going to sound heretical, but if you don’t experience Jesus when reading your Bible, then stop reading it. And if you don’t experience him in church, stop going or find a new one.
 
Humans are systematic beings. We are so habitual that we subliminally can do tasks without thinking about them. We can unknowingly do the same to our faith.
 
The best way to break the system—stop doing what is habitual and try something new that takes the full attention of your mind, heart, and soul. This way, you fully experience what it is the Lord has to offer because you have to focus on what you’re doing. This is why children and so wowed by life and adults feel it’s boring—little kids are experiencing something new every day and find joy in it.
 
Experiencing Jesus isn’t a 3×5 notecard, grandma-scribbled recipe. It’s the process of throwing in a little extra cinnamon, tossing flour and digging your hands into the dough while stealing a few bites before you make the cookies.
 
Maybe you actually need to read your Bible or pray for once. Maybe you need to slow down life and listen or go evangelize on a street corner. Whatever it is, break up the system, find the little things, do the hard things, get uncomfortable, I’ll guarantee you’ll experience Jesus in a new way.

Jesus Doesn’t Belong In Church

Photo Credit: astrid westvang (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: astrid westvang (Creative Commons)

Jesus doesn’t belong in church, and if you understand the church as the ekklesia, a gathering of believers, here’s why. I observe individuals who only partake of Jesus on Sundays, and outside of the Sabbath, there isn’t much attention to living a lifestyle that vibrantly represents Jesus. Furthermore, if people are being intentional about Jesus outside of Sundays, they usually still gather with the church, in a body of common believers, discussing or studying him over coffee time or in a group setting at home.
 
And that’s great, but if we only keep Jesus in the ekklesia, how will we carry out his heart for the poor, the spreading of the gospel to the nations, the loving of the lost and the sinners? I mightily believe in the church gathering as a place to be built up and filled, but I more so believe in it as a weaponized cannon—building you, filling you, and then launching you out to do something with your faith.
 

If we allow Jesus to only exist in the church, then I’m afraid we have created a faith that is expendable, like a lifeless, forgotten toy on a shelf that will never be used to its full capacity.

 
I’m also afraid Jesus wouldn’t show up to church on Sundays today. I’ve spoken at over 30 churches in the past two years and it’s strange to me how often people like to listen but struggle to implement, religiously attend but are easily offended.
 
When I speak about Jesus in church, the radical drop your nets and follow me and flip some tables Jesus—not the kind and merciful Jesus, I get lots of wide eyes, huffing and puffing, and pats on the hand afterwards for it “being a good message, but hard to apply today”.
 

Are you serious?!

 
(Begin Rant) What do you see when you read the Bible then? Do you skip over every command and call to action Jesus gives? What’s the purpose of your faith? What are you even doing with it? How do you reason with yourself to keep your faith within walls? No where in the Bible does it desire for you to have an easy life, a comfortable journey, or a glorious position, but instead desires you to have an effective faith. In fact, if you want to be comfortable and make life about you, don’t go to church stirring up apathy and downgrading the duties of that church from action to inaction because “Jesus had to be radical then, but there’s no need for that anymore” (End Rant).
 
Jesus didn’t visit the temple often when he was on earth because of this very reason. The Pharisees, the religious, comfortable gurus, would hate on Jesus because he was “too radical”, and ashamedly, many in the church would say the same to Jesus today if he visited.
 
And that’s why Jesus brought his ministry to the hills, to the in-betweens, to the crowd that was longing for action and willing to take risks to see Jesus’ words become tangible truth. 
 
Jesus cannot belong solely in the church, he cannot exist only in your being, this we already have, but what shall we do with it? I pray you answer, “Take it outside the church, bring it to the ends of the earth.”

Love Now, Not Later

Photo Credit: Jessy Rone, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Jessy Rone, Creative Commons

I’ve held a lot of grudges because of one moment of interaction with someone else. I’ve never met them or hardly know them and they do that?! Judged. Although the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a common warning, I find it a struggle to follow. One look, word, or action and we choose to classify people into a genre—punk, druggie, loser, sappy, too happy, too nice, fake, jerk-face. Why are we using one moment to define a lifetime?

Honestly, you’re just like me, we’re not perfect in every moment of every day. Emotions are a funny thing—they roar in some moments and are balanced in others. Sometimes anger and sadness outweigh happiness and joy.

If we choose one moment to define people for a lifetime, we are missing out on their story and ignoring their pain.

Whether you know the individual intimately, cordially, or briefly, one moment shouldn’t define your love towards them. Love is a free gift meant for the happy and the hurt. Interactions can give you clues into who the person is, but behind the mask and inside the human is a world constructed from a lifetime of battles and attempted recovery. Your love can pull them through.

We tend to offer more grace to momentary mess-ups with those we know well and cast more judgment on those we don’t—but shouldn’t the scales of grace be equal?

One moment is not enough to categorize an individual into a group you “don’t want to deal with,” because it’s a cop out to not have to work at loving someone. Isn’t it interesting how we like to love when it’s easy but struggle to love when it’s hard?

Jesus was great at tough love. How many times did he have to correct Peter before he became the rock the church was built on? How many moments did he tell the disciples to quit being jerks and let the children and the sick come to him so he could heal them? And—how great his love was when he knowingly let Judas betray him, extending his grace to the sinner and sacrificing himself for the world.

I think God puts tough moments in our life daily, watching how well we will love when it’s difficult.

When it comes to people we don’t know well, we need to choose any moment that comes our way, good or bad, to be the presence of love. There are too many factors we don’t know about the person to write them off and withhold something God has commanded us to give.

In every interaction today, choose to embrace the weird, risk the uncomfortable, connect with the impossible and be love in the moment to share grace with a lifetime you’re not sure of…yet.

                           

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